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Hanuman Nagar Marathi School
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I am sure everyone knows that Louise Gomm is volunteering to be part of a School for Humanity team performing maintenance on a slum school in Mumbai. Louise is raising $2500+, and Paul Thorley has promised to match this dollar for dollar to provide Louise with the minimum amount she needs to cover her travel and accommodation for the trip ($4500).

Before I left for India Louise came to talk to me about how the Rightshore team could help. She told me about the school and walked me through her business case. My immediate reaction was to search enthusiastically for the school on Google Maps. I had a vision of green space similar to the local Sydney primary school. Of course I couldn't find it, but I promised Louise that if she could tell me the exact location of the school and if I had time I would visit the school during my time in Mumbai so that I could provide background for Louise's campaign.

Through Louise I made contact with Yusuf Lanewala. Yusuf's day job is as the Chairman of the Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture IT committee, but he is also the Charter President of the Rotary Club of Bombay, Kandivili, and looks after the school assistance program on behalf of the club. Yusuf is a busy man, but he agreed to meet me on Saturday morning to give me a tour of the school and explain the particular challenges they are facing. One of the great contradictions of Mumbai is how quickly you move from salubrious to slum and back. My trip to the school is no exception. We turn off a tree lined avenue flanked by new apartment blocks and are immediately confronted by poverty. While this is not the worst neighbourhood in Mumbai it is still obviously very poor. We make our way carefully down a crowded narrow lane flanked with small retail outlets and a variety of cottage manufacturing businesses. Yusuf explains that "this is a permanent slum where, over time, the structures have become more substantial and the area has gained a level of legitimacy in the eyes of the city".

The Hanuman Nagar Marathi Municipal School

"Here it is" says Yusuf pointing out a solid but very neglected structure on the side of the street, "this is the school". The dirty grey walls and wooden shutters remind me of the dairy farm milking sheds I knew as a child. There is even the odd dog hanging around.

Indians really value education and revere the relationship between pupil and teacher. Education is widely seen as the key to future on both an individual and national level. School in India is compulsory from age 6 up to age 14 and the children attend six days a week. At this school there are two shifts, one from 8am - 1pm and the next from 1pm - 6pm. There are 615 children at the school. The classes go from year 1 through to year 5. After that the children who are able to carry on with their education will move on to a different school. There are a number of Government initiatives aimed at keeping children in school including providing uniforms, including matching hair ribbons for the girls, and a mid day meal for the children. Yusuf explains that this is a Marathi school. Marathi is one of the six official Indian languages and is the native language of the state where Mumbai is situated.

Yusif and I go into the school and are greeted by the deputy principal who shows us some of the classrooms. The rooms are dark and musty. There are some lights but many of the florescent tubes are dead. Rewiring to provide increased safety and better light is one of the tasks for the team. The walls are damp and decaying. Much of the plaster is gone and the remaining paint is worn and grubby. "We must fix the source of the damp before we fix the walls otherwise our work would be in vain" says Yusuf. He explains that the road outside is above the level of the floor and water from the road drains into the classrooms and floods the floor. This is compounded by the water run off, not to mention the noise and smell, from the fish market that takes place next to the school during the week.

Inside a classroom

Another task will be to raise the floor above the road to stop the ongoing flooding problems. The roof is asbestos. It will not be replaced. Yusuf is resigned to this. "In India there are no standards for the removal of asbestos. Removing it would create dust and lead to bigger problems as no specialised disposal facilities exist. We will leave the roof as it is, all we can do is coat it to stabilise any loose material."

Hello Australia!

There is a chorus of "Good morning sir!" from 25 or so smiling faces in the first classroom we visit. The children are like children everywhere, happy, smiling and enthusiastic. This is an English class and the children are learning about "my friend". We also visit a geography class and a maths class. I shake hands, high five, discuss cricket and have fun taking photos. All the classrooms contain only very basic equipment. The blackboards are painted on the walls and need refreshing, the desks and chairs have seen better days and the only colour is provided by a few home made posters taped to the walls above the high water mark.

As we go outside Yusuf shows me the broken flagstones and collapsed monsoon drain covers that could easily break a leg or turn an ankle. The area is clean and tidy and there are carefully tended garden borders. "The teachers do this themselves" I am told, "The state should allocate funds for maintenance, but the funding barely covers the salaries. At times teachers have to pay for essential items out of their own pockets". The aim is to create a safe and shaded outdoor play area for the children, so that the school is not just as a place of learning but also as a quiet respite from the chaos of the world outside.

Danger in the playground

When it is time for us to leave my lasting impression is of a thirst for knowledge from the children and a complete dedication from the teaching staff. It would be fantastic if we can get behind Louise to help create a physical environment to match. Who knows, she may well be enhancing the education of a potential Indian Prime Minister or helping out an up and coming Sachen Tendulkar or Aishwarya Rai. She may even be providing a stepping stone for the career of a future Capgemini Rightshore colleague!

From my first hand observation this is a great cause. Louise is organising a number of fundraising activities over the next few weeks, and I strongly encourage everyone to support her to make her trip a big success!

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